Liv­ing in Sil­ver­a­do: Secret Jews in the Sil­ver Min­ing Towns of Colo­nial Mexico

David M. Gitlitz

January 1, 2013

In this thor­ough­ly researched work, David M. Gitlitz traces the lives and for­tunes of three clus­ters of six­teenth-cen­tu­ry cryp­to-Jews in Mex­i­co’s sil­ver min­ing towns. Pre­vi­ous stud­ies of six­teenth-cen­tu­ry Mex­i­can cryp­to-Jews focus on the mer­chant com­mu­ni­ty cen­tered in Mex­i­co City, but here Gitlitz looks beyond Mex­i­co’s major pop­u­la­tion cen­ter to explore how clan­des­tine reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties were estab­lished in the reales, the hin­ter­land min­ing camps, and how they dif­fered from those of the cap­i­tal in their strug­gles to retain their Jew­ish iden­ti­ty in a world dom­i­nat­ed eco­nom­i­cal­ly by sil­ver and reli­gious­ly by the Catholic Church.

In Liv­ing in Sil­ver­a­do Gitlitz paints an unusu­al­ly vivid por­trait of the lives of Mex­i­co’s ear­ly set­tlers. Unlike tra­di­tion­al schol­ar­ship that has focused main­ly on macro issues of the sil­ver boom, Gitlitz close­ly ana­lyzes the com­plex work­ings of the hacien­das that mined and refined sil­ver, and in doing so he pro­vides a won­der­ful­ly detailed sense of the dai­ly expe­ri­ences of Mex­i­co’s ear­ly secret Jews.

Discussion Questions

In Liv­ing in Sil­ver­a­do: Secret Jews in the Sil­ver Min­ing Towns of Colo­nial Mex­i­co, David Gitlitz mines Inqui­si­tion­al records and oth­er sur­viv­ing archival sources in Mex­i­co and Spain to forge a detailed social his­to­ry of the six­teenth-cen­tu­ry cryp­to-Jews who were pio­neers of sil­ver min­ing in Mex­i­co. With atten­tion to detail, Gitlitz recon­structs the inter­twined lives of these indi­vid­u­als — Por­tuguese of Span­ish descent, Chris­tians of Jew­ish descent — in Mex­i­co despite inter­dic­tions against the migra­tion from Iberia of those who were not descend­ed from at least two gen­er­a­tions of Chris­tians, who gen­er­al­ly migrat­ed in hopes of strik­ing it rich. Gitlitz’s micro­his­to­ry sheds light on devel­op­ments and trans­for­ma­tions in sil­ver min­ing prac­tices, and the often iso­lat­ed and lone­ly lives of cryp­to-Jew­ish indi­vid­u­als who cast them­selves into min­ing. In doing so, this book reveals what on-the-ground prac­tices of cryp­to-Judaism looked like, who observed or cel­e­brat­ed what aspects of Judaism and in what forms, what types of reli­gious edu­ca­tion these indi­vid­u­als had and from whom, and how cryp­to-Jew­ish prac­tices var­ied with gen­der, age, and social class. Liv­ing in Sil­ver­a­do high­lights, too, the con­nec­tions that bound togeth­er cryp­to-Jew­ish min­ers, mer­chants and their fam­i­lies, and sheds light on how dense net­works of fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships both under­gird­ed cryp­to-Jew­ish prac­tices in Mex­i­co, and ulti­mate­ly exposed those prac­ti­tion­ers to the Inquisition.